September 26, 1876 – First California Oil Well

petroleum history september

Thanks to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, California’s first refinery has been preserved, perhaps the oldest in the world. Photo courtesy Konrad Summers.

Although Charles Mentry’s California Star Oil Works Company drilled three wells that showed promise, his first gusher arrived with the Pico No. 4 well on September 26, 1876. Drilling with a cable-tool rig powered by steam in an area known for its oil seeps, his well revealed the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. It was California’s first commercial oil well.

The Star Oil Works well, which initially produced 25 barrels per day from 370 feet, led to construction of the state’s first oil pipeline and first commercially successful oil refinery for making kerosene, axle grease and other lubricants. Stills set on brick foundations had a refining capacity of 150 barrels a day.

Today’s Chevron, once the Standard Oil Company of California, can trace its beginning to the 1876 Pico Canyon oil discovery and the California Star Oil Works Company.

September 26, 1933 – King Ranch Lease sets Record

petroleum history september

A 1933 King Ranch oil lease set a record.

Despite the reservations of Humble Oil and Refining Company President W.S. Parrish, geologist Wallace Pratt convinced the company to lease the million-acre King Ranch in Texas for almost $128,000 per year (plus a one-eighth royalty on any discovered oil).

The September 26, 1933, petroleum lease deal was the largest oil lease contract ever negotiated in the United States. Humble Oil and Refining, a Houston company founded in 1917, had drilled the King Ranch’s early “dusters.”

Subsequent leases from nearby ranches gave Humble Oil & Refining nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River. By 1947, Humble would be operating 390 producing oil wells on the King Ranch lease. ExxonMobil has regularly extended the Humble oil and natural gas lease agreement in effect since 1933. Learn more in Oil reigns at King Ranch.

September 26, 1943 – First Florida Oil well

The Humble Oil Company completed Florida’s first commercially successful oil well on September 26, 1943 – the Sunniland No. 1 – near a watering stop on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.

Humble Oil spent $1 million drilling to a depth of about 11,600 feet to complete the discovery well, located 12 miles south of Immokalee, near Big Cypress Preserve and the city of Naples.

Florida’s petroleum had eluded hundreds of wildcatters since 1901. By 1939, almost 80 dry holes had been drilled. Florida legislators – desperate for their state to become an oil producer and benefit from the tax revenue – offered a $50,000 bounty for the first oil discovery. Revealing the Sunniland oilfield brought more drilling, and by 1954 the field was producing 500,000 barrels of oil per year from 11 wells.

Texas-based Humble Oil accepted the $50,000 prize offered by the state legislature, added $10,000 – and donated the $60,000 equally between the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women. Humble later became ExxonMobil. Read more in First Florida Oil Well.

September 27, 1915 – Deadly Explosion in Ardmore, Oklahoma

petroleum history september

The 1915 accident will result in new gas transportation regulations.

Two years after discovery of the Healdton oilfield in Oklahoma, a September 27, 1915, railroad tank car of casing-head gasoline exploded in Ardmore.

The explosion at the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway depot destroyed most of downtown Ardmore. Casing-head gasoline from natural gas wells at the time was integral to Oklahoma’s petroleum development.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, after the disaster the Natural Gasoline Manufacturers Association advocated new regulations governing casing-head gas transportation. The Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway was found responsible for the explosion and paid 1,700 claims totaling $1.25 million.

September 30, 2006 – Bronze Roughnecks dedicated at Signal Hill, California

petroleum history september

Signal Hill once had so many derricks people called it Porcupine Hill. The city of Long Beach is visible in the distance.

A statue “Tribute to the Roughnecks” was dedicated on September 30, 2006, near the Alamitos No. 1 well, which in 1921 revealed California’s prolific Long Beach oilfield. Twenty miles south of Los Angeles, the bronze statue commemorates the Signal Hill Oil boom.

More than one billion barrels of oil have been pumped from the Long Beach oilfield since its discovery. A plaque notes the monument serves, “as a tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here, a success which has, by aiding in the growth and expansion of the petroleum industry, contributed so much to the welfare of mankind.”

October 1, 1908 – Ford produces First Model T

petroleum history september

Model T tires are white until 1910 – when the petroleum product carbon black is added to improve durability.

The first production Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line at the company’s plant in Detroit October 1, 1908.

Between 1908 and 1927, Ford built about 15 million Model T cars – fueled by inexpensive gasoline. It was great timing for the petroleum industry, which had seen demand for kerosene for lamps drop because of electric lighting.

New oilfield discoveries, including a 1901 massive find near Beaumont, Texas, soon met demand for what had been a refining byproduct: gasoline. See Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show.

October 1, 1920 – “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas joins Texas Rangers

petroleum history september

Downtown Kilgore, Texas, boasts the “World’s Richest Acre Park, where once stood the world’s greatest concentration of oil wells.” Library of Congress photo.

When Manuel T. Gonzaullas joined the Texas Rangers on October 1, 1920, many rowdy Texas boom towns would never be the same. He soon became known as “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas.

In East Texas, when the streets of downtown Kilgore sprouted oil derricks, the population grew from 700 to 10,000 in two weeks. With Depression-era petroleum discoveries multiplying, oil boom towns often attracted criminals. Riding a black stallion named Tony and sporting two pearl-handled .45 pistols, Gonzaullas soon earned a reputation for strictly enforcing the law. Learn more in “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger.

October 1, 1942 – Water Injection Project begins in East Texas

petroleum history september

The Texas Railroad Commission called the 1942 use of saltwater injection, “the greatest oil conservation project in history.”

The East Texas Salt Water Disposal Company on October 1, 1942, drilled the first salt water injection well in the 12-year-old East Texas oilfield near the towns of Tyler, Longview and Kilgore.

As early as 1929 the Federal Bureau of Mines had determined that injecting recovered saltwater into formations could increase reservoir pressures and oil production.

The Texas Railroad Commission created the East Texas Salt Water Disposal Company as a public utility operating in the historic oilfield.

In its first 13 years, the company gathered, treated, and re-injected about 1.5 billion barrels of saltwater, prompting the commission to proclaim saltwater injection as the greatest oil conservation project in history.

October 2, 1919 – Future “Mr. Tulsa” incorporates Skelly Oil

petroleum history september

Born near Pennsylvania’s early oilfields, independent oilman William Skelly’s company helped make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”

Skelly Oil Company incorporated in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with founder William Grove Skelly as president. He had been born in 1878 in Erie, Pennsylvania, where his father hauled oilfield equipment in a horse-drawn wagon.

Creating Skelly Oil Company was a result of Skelly’s earlier successes in the giant El Dorado oilfield east of Wichita, Kansas, and other petroleum industry ventures, including Midland Refining Company, which he founded in 1917.

Skelly Oil became one of the Mid-Continent’s most successful independents – producing almost nine million barrels of oil in 1929.

With Tulsa already famous worldwide – see Making Tulsa the Oil Capital – Skelly became known as “Mr. Tulsa” thanks to his support for many civic and charitable causes – and serving as president of Tulsa’s famous International Petroleum Exposition for 32 years until his death in 1957.


Listen online to “Remember When Wednesdays” on the weekday morning radio program Exploring Energy, 9 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of every month. Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society today with a tax-deductible donation. © This Week in Petroleum History, AOGHS 2016.